As I recently became a university student, in the matter of a week I have become fully aware of how much I used to underestimate college students; I have a feeling that I’ll be impressed again and again by their style throughout the coming months.
The university I attend places students in the same major into specific groups, and it is with these people that I will spend the upcoming years. We are crammed into the same classroom for tutorials, grouped together for graded assignments, and assigned the same lecture halls. However, my group has been hit with a quite interesting time frame for classes: we’re the lucky ones with a 9 AM course every single day.
Even though I love planning my outfits in advance, the rain here in Amsterdam has forced me to change my outfits last minute. Between the weather and my desire to be comfortable during three-hour lectures, I often find myself stumped on what to wear. Should I focus on style or comfort? Or can I do both?
Even so, as a student, style and comfort aren’t the only two factors at hand. We’re also deciding whether we should splurge on a specific brand of cereal and if we should buy our eggs by the dozen to save some extra cash. Affordability is now a crucial part of our decision when we’re shopping for new clothing.
Thus, the University Student Fashion Triangle was born. Taken after the project management triangle, the University Student Fashion Triangle is my personal theory. As university students, many of us are on a tight budget given to us by our parents or our part-time jobs, making affordability a strong factor in our style. Simultaneously, comfort comes into play with functionality. (It wouldn’t be practical for university students to be strutting around campus in a cocktail dress or heels.) Lastly, style is a vital aspect of choosing what we wear. We as humans have an innate need to look good, whether it’s to attract mating partners, look professional, or assert dominance.
Intrigued by the concept, I began tracking my outfit choices. Whenever I put effort into what I wore a certain day, I’d post it on my Instagram highlights. Soon, I began realizing that my clothing favors style and price. Like most young adults my age, I gravitate towards clothing stores that provide affordable staple pieces like Topshop, Missguided, and Nasty Gal.
But what about other university students? During the past week of class alone I’ve seen a wide range of styles. From the stylish classmates that look like they just walked out of my Instagram feed, to the ones rocking a blazer and platform shoes on a rainy day, it’s evident that there isn’t a stand-alone “university student” look, but rather a melting pot of styles.
I talked to Zoé, a French 18 year-old studying in the Netherlands, about her fashion choices. This photo was taken on a cloudy Monday, a block away from our university building. She defines her style as “a mixture of chic and casual, perfect for the constantly changing weather.” On this specific day, Zoé is wearing a colorful statement blazer, sleeveless white top, and fitted black pants, paired with heeled black boots. The soft and vibrant colors in her make-up and blazer create a juxtaposition between playful and professional.
(Zoé Claudel, @zoeclaudel on Instagram)
During a ten-minute mid-class break, I took a photo of my classmate Hadi. Hadi is 19 and from Pakistan. He describes his style as prince-like, and his favorite piece from his closet is his black, faux fur-collared jacket. Hadi is sporting a simple grey t-shirt and his favorite jacket, combined with a pair of navy blue slacks and matching Levi’s shoes. This stylish fit allowed him to look his best while he attended his classes and showed up for his residency and bank appointments.
(Abdul Hadi, @ahadi69 on Instagram)
As I walked to my lecture, I bumped into Antigone. Antigone Who was trying to finish her sandwich before we all had to rush into the lecture hall. She describes her style as casual, and her favorite piece from her closet is her trusty leather jacket. Antigone is shown here wearing a leather jacket, a black sweater, black skinny jeans, and Vans. This outfit keeps Antigone warm for her day classes and ready for the night’s weekly party thrown for Media Studies students.
(Antigone Pappas, @antig0 on Instagram)
After the lecture, I bumped into my friend Michael. During the few minutes I had to quickly freshen up, we went out to the courtyard to take this photo. His army green, white, and black ensemble created a fitting autumn look. As Michael’s only class that day was our afternoon lecture, he had more time to get ready in the morning than the rest of us. Michael has an amazing taste in style, often stunning us with his outfit choices; from a double denim fit to fitted salmon-pink pants, he seems capable of rocking whatever piece of clothing he puts on.
(Michael Ashong, @amourfrancois on Instagram)
Before meeting up with some classmates for a group project, I sat down with one of my friends from high school. Lucas is 18 and from Michigan. His ultimate style icon is filmmaker Casey Neistat, and his favorite staple is a pair of white sneakers. He describes his style as “skater.” On this day, Lucas sported a Carhartt windbreaker, Calvin Klein t-shirt, acid wash jeans, and a pair of Nike sneakers.
(Lucas Hibbeln, @_hibby on Instagram)
After class, I met up with Erika at the school café to finish up an English project. Erika is sporting a dark grey v-neck t-shirt, black skinny jeans, and tan suede boots. Her look is perfect for a study session: comfortable yet professional. Erika humbly describes her personal style as “all over the place,” and her favorite piece of clothing is the long coat she is pictured wearing.
(Erika Jeca, @erika.jeca on Instagram)
Our styles are a reflection of our personality, our hobbies, and who we want to become. I grew up with the impression that college students roll around campus wearing oversized, stained college hoodies and sweatpants, but as I arrived on campus I was stunned by the level of effort most people put into their outfits. Since then, I’ve even found myself thinking about people’s outfits during class, daydreaming about the beautiful denim jacket and multi-fabric paperboy hat I had seen in the hallway earlier.
While it may seem difficult to maintain all three corners of the University Student Fashion Triangle, my classmates and friends have found ways to make it work. They mix and match cheap, trendy pieces with expensive staples, creating their own unique style.
A YouTube search will provide a million different answers about what university students are actually wearing, many depicting us as lazy and lacking in style. But I’ve witnessed my classmates and friends looking their best, even for a 9 AM lecture after a long night of partying. They manage to meet all three criteria of the triangle without losing their minds.
This is what university students are actually wearing.